As he reached for the phone on the bedside table at 3:30 in the morning, Garth had little doubt it was his brother calling.
“Garth, he’s gone.” Henry sounded exhausted.
Garth and Henry’s father suffered six weeks on a ventilator, an experience he obviously detested. Every time Henry asked the doctors to take him off the device and to allow him to die, he received a lecture about the sanctity of life, remarkable recoveries, and the miracles of modern medicine. Henry never believed a word of it, but his vigil had depleted him, and he had lacked the stamina to argue with the precepts doctors apparently embraced and mindlessly recited to family members as a facile litany.
“I’ll head to the airport and catch the first flight I can.” Garth paused, then asked, “Anything else right now?”
“No. I’ll wait to make any arrangements until you’re here.”
At the airport, Garth discovered that the only available seat on the next flight to Miami was in first-class. Sitting in the deluxe cabin, Garth gagged on stomach acid as it erupted into his esophagus. Somehow, the luxury of the first-class cabin made him feel all the more guilty about the relief he felt in learning of his father’s death.
Garth tried to convince himself that his guilt was unfounded. After his father’s first month on the ventilator, Garth realized a person could remain in a sedated, semiconscious, machine-supported existence for an unspeakably long period of time. Even if his father recovered from the fluid flooding maliciously within his body, he would undoubtedly be sent to a nursing home, a place he made clear he never wanted to be. Garth really had no selfish reason for wishing his father to die, but wishing death for anyone is a formidable proposition.
Gagging as he tried to swallow more refluxing stomach acid, Garth sensed an insurgent anger emerging within him. If only he could be passive, even detached, and simply show up at the funeral, then walk away. But Garth had never played such a role in the family, and certainly, as a lawyer, it would fall to him to clean up the almost inevitable chaos of his father’s financial affairs.
Nathan Hollingsworth, the sire of Garth and Henry, enjoyed a lengthy career of investing in absurdly curious businesses. While never actually shady, his enterprises operated far beyond the mainstream of commerce. He always looked for an obscure niche, something unproven, a scheme that demanded a pioneering spirit. Never elegant or simple, his businesses always required a lengthy description to understand, and undoubtedly, that’s one thing he liked about them. He could talk about them endlessly with the flare of a swashbuckling capitalist.
Hollingsworth’s entrepreneurial endeavors ranged from the improbable to the ridiculous, but none was quite as far-fetched as a service he once provided to homeowners who wished to discourage burglaries by renting menacing dogs to sit on their property. Pursuant to a business plan with superficial merit, clients would rent a German Shepherd to sit on their front lawn for an hour or two, three days a week, in order to discourage the any malfeasant who was scouting homes for break-ins. On at least one level, the business was quite successful. None of Hollingsworth’s clients experienced a burglary, but they did experience dog bites, lawns filled with German Shepherd excrement, and alienation from their neighbors. The business faced insurmountable challenges as he attempted to enlarge the scale of the enterprise. With two dogs, it was a profitable hobby. As an authentic, self-sustaining business with sixteen canines, most of whom did not get along with one another, the enterprise descended into a bedlam of unanticipated calamities, leaving Hollingsworth with a pack of unruly dogs and countless lawsuits.
As Hollingsworth entered his eighties, his entrepreneurial energy primarily involved schemes for gaming the stock market. Not surprisingly, Hollingsworth developed several intricate, is not byzantine, systems to which he gave exotic names such as, “Seasonal Maximization Plus,” “Counterintuitive Impulse Buying,” “Bertha’s Big Grab It Now Theory,” the last system being named for his mother. When the schemes were working well, Hollingsworth proudly sent copies of his brokerage statements to Garth, but for the last ten months, Garth had received no financial information from his father. He hoped his instincts were unfounded, but based on prior periods of financial incommunicado, Garth was certain that even Big Bertha had been failing.
Standing side-by-side at the luggage carousel, Garth and Henry did their best to console one another, which primarily involved monosyllabic utterances and repetitive nodding. Both were certain their father would have wished to be taken off the ventilator long ago, but it was Henry, now retired, who assumed the responsibility of negotiating with the physicians. He assured Garth he had implored the hospital staff to spare their father further suffering, and not envying his brother at all, Garth felt grateful that he had not been called upon to advocate for his father’s death. The burden of merely wishing for it was more than enough.
With Henry driving their father’s Mercedes from the airport toward Hollingsworth’s condominium, both brothers started to weep—not openly, but enough to require use of the strategically placed box of Kleenex in the center console. Each had a very different relationship with their father and each was close to him in a different way.
Hollingsworth treated Henry as an adult much the same way he treated him as a child. Neither outgrew the patterns established early in life, and Henry learned to enjoy the role of the son who depended upon his father’s largess. Henry never bought a new car because his father would always give him an automobile after he had driven it for a year or two. Never having sufficient savings to buy anything of any consequence, Henry would often borrow money from his father knowing full well the loan would never be collected. They would take trips together involving activities Garth eschewed. Garth was not a gambler, a golfer, fishermen or a hunter, and he never participated in his father’s and brother’s junkets.
Early in life, Garth yearned for independence from both of his parents as each tried to cling tightly to him and control him as a final vestige of their failing marriage. After he left for college, he never returned home for more than a few days’ visit. Later in life, he and his father developed an authentic adult relationship with Hollingsworth often depending upon Garth’s legal talents to repair or salvage a situation that had turned out to be unfortuna